“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit” – Aristotle
As 2018 draws to a close and 2019 begins, it is that time again for reflection upon the past year, and contemplation of the year to come. I want to focus on the upcoming year and share some wisdom to ensure that these New Year’s resolutions stick. As Aristotle postulated, excellence, or in other words success, is something that is built day-by-day with small, incremental habits. One tendency when creating a New Year’s resolution is to make that resolution too daunting, too big of a mountain to scale. We try to lose 30lbs in a month or read 2 books a week after zero practice with either. We should instead strive to improve ourselves by small, incremental proportions each day. Even a 1% improvement per day will yield a 35% improvement 30 days, a 6x improvement in 182 days, and a 37x improvement 365 days. Wouldn’t we all want to be 37 times better at anything in our lives? I want to introduce you to the Masonic 24 inch gauge, better known in modern days as the ruler, and show you how it can be used to make 2019 the year you transform your life.
In the first degree of Masonry, we are introduced to the symbolism of the “working tools.” These are instruments whose use in the physical world is symbolic to that use we ourselves should be using in the internal. One such instrument is the 24-inch gauge.
The 24-inch gauge is divided into 3 parts and further into 24 segments, symbolizing the 24 hours of the day. As such as are taught to divide our day into 3 parts, whereby we one part is for charity and spiritual service, one part for our work, and one part for refreshment and sleep. In today’s world that notion sounds preposterous: how can we possibly only work for 8 hours? How can we possibly get 8 hours of sleep? How does one even attend to their spirit and charity? Yet, this simple symbolic instrument can be the best guide to not only your New Year’s resolution but a guide to living each day by. By using this instrument and dedicating ourselves to improve by 1% each day, we will yield a new man by 2020.
I would argue that the symbolism of a gauge is more of an ideal than a reality. If we imagine our days as 24 equal chunks, then we can be strategic about how we use those chunks and in which of the 3 categories they fall in. Let us focus on the hardest of the 3 to understand, yet the most important and most often forgotten of the 3 toward fulfilling both our New Year’s resolution and ourselves: the part for spiritual service and charity.
For the first part of this, I urge you to take an individual notion of spiritual work rather than an esoteric one. Imagine yourself as the spirit, and think of it more along the lines of improving yourself and your mental health as well as trying to elevate those around you. We can help ourselves by 3 main factors, each of which we should strive to make a small improvement in each day. Exercise, meditation and learning, these 3 factors will confer the most improvement in our journey to building ourselves. Meditation teaches us to have better control over our thoughts and emotions, as well as to be present in the moment. Exercise gives us countless scientifically documented benefits, both in terms of our bodily health but also in terms of our mental health by positively changing the way our brain works and reducing our cortisol (a hormone released during stress that, in chronic states, damages our neural capacity). And lastly, learning should be a lifelong goal. Learning is an exercise for the mind, and each day we should strive to learn something new whether it be by podcast, audiobook, physical book, or YouTube video. Here are the ways in which I implement, and continue to improve, this portion of my day:
Learning: I listen to podcasts via Spotify while getting dressed/getting ready in the morning. Podcasts can range from Gary Vaynerchuk discussing business advice to NPR’s news on my Alexa. I love this habit because I start my day learning something new, which sets up the rest of my day to be very productive. I also try to read for 20-30 minutes each morning while drinking my coffee.
Meditation: I use the app Headspace (No affiliation) to practice meditation for 5-10 minutes each day. I find the morning, before I leave my home for the day, to be the best time to fit this in.
Exercise: I strive to exercise each and every day. I will usually use the gym or go to a fitness class (Boxing, Corepower) usually around 90% of the month. That roughly means around 1 rest day a week that most of the time is unintentional but simply due to my schedule piling up. However, I’m fortunate to have an apartment gym downstairs and even on my “rest” days I will try to take a quick 15 minute run on the treadmill.
In terms of Charity, Sir Thomas Browne once said, “Charity begins at home.” Too often we think that we need a grand sweeping act to count as charity. I offer a simpler definition of charity that I’ve deduced through my Masonic education: a positive effect on the world around you. It’s very simple to accomplish this goal with that definition in mind. Strive to go through life seeking opportunities to make a positive impact on your neighbor, your colleagues, and strangers. Charity need not always be about money. It can often be thought of more as Relief, in giving someone good advice or kind words we relieve them from a tough situation.
How I practice charity:
I strive to have one charitable element in each of my days. This can range from asking a colleague about their day and spending the 10-15 minutes to actually find out how they’re doing and see if perhaps they need advice, or perhaps striking up a conversation with the person at the checkout line and letting them know that I’m thankful for their help. Any small act that can brighten someone’s day I argue is charity. On a broader scale, I volunteer my time for a local organization that aims to educate the community on matters of health and fitness.
As we discussed earlier, strive to make a 1% improvement in this category each day. One extra minute of meditation, one extra push-up, and one extra door held open, and one extra dollar donated. We can all do these at no detriment to our current lives.